LAKELAND, Fla. -- Michael Fulmer came to Spring Training last year looking for a spot on the Tigers' pitching staff. This year, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year took the mound in the Tigers' Grapefruit League opener looking for the outside corner with his fastball. He didn't quite command it in his 2017 debut Friday, but with a scoreless inning against the Orioles during the Tigers' 2-0 loss at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, he began his sophomore season smoothly.
Fulmer fell behind on three-ball counts to two of Baltimore's first three hitters as he tried to hit the corner of home-plate umpire Joe West's zone. He recovered to retire both Chris Dickerson and Hyun Soo Kim, but needed a groundout from cleanup hitter Trey Mancini to strand Johnny Giavotella in scoring position following his one-out single.
• Spring Training: Info | Schedule | Tickets | Gear
"Oh, I was rusty for sure," Fulmer said. "The biggest thing was going out and feeling healthy. The ball was coming out good, I felt like. Everything was working properly. Just was a little out of sync. It just has to do with release point and trying to get the ball down more.
"I don't know how many pitches I threw, but they were all fastballs except the last one to Mancini. I threw him a slider. It was a cement mixer, but that's what Spring Training is for. You have to work on that stuff."
Fulmer threw eight of his 15 pitches for strikes. That was the afternoon for Fulmer, who was penciled in for one inning as the Tigers try to bring him along slowly this spring. Though he's potentially in line to pitch a potential second- or third-round game for Team USA in next month's World Baseball Classic, he'll be on a pitch count if he does.
The Tigers' goal is to watch the workload on Fulmer, whose 159 innings hit the upper limit of what Detroit had in mind for him in his first Major League campaign. For Fulmer, the goal is to build up his arm and have him peak in time for the start of the regular season, rather than in Spring Training like he did last year.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.